The Esther and Tempel Smith family have every reason to be proud of their Lipizzan horse heritage. Consequently, the rest of us have many good reasons to visit Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, Illinois, and enjoy the fruits of their labors. The farm offers classical dressage performances and, currently, a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with a nod to a daring rescue that saved the breed from probable extinction.
Lipizzan (or Lipizzaners, the two names are interchangeable) are magnificent white horses known for their intelligence, strength and beauty. Today, they are commonly known for their “airs above ground” elaborate performances, which usually include leaps and other dance-like movements, usually set to classical music.
Lipizzans have a rich history. The Habsburgs of Austria originally made classical dressage famous in the 16th Century. It continued as European royalty’s premier entertainment of choice for over 400 years, and the style of riding eventually morphed into today’s modern competitive dressage.
Near the end of World War II, General Patton learned that German troops held the Lipizzan breeding stock as prisoners of war in Czechoslovakia. Russia’s Red Army was fast approaching, and it was feared they may slaughter the animals for their meat. Patton sent the US Army’s Second Cavalry tank unit to their rescue in a daring two-day dash behind enemy lines known as “Operation Cowboy.” The 1963 Walt Disney film “Miracle of the White Stallions” immortalizes this.
In 1958, Chicago industrialists Tempel and Esther Smith visited Europe and discovered Lipizzan horses and classical dressage. Although they had little equestrian experience, they fell in love with the artistry, history and culture of classical dressage.
“They decided to import the entire cultural tradition,” their granddaughter, Esther Buonanno, says. “Even though they didn’t yet own a farm, they imported 20 horses by boat.” Eventually, the Tempels purchased land that had belonged to the Jelke family, which owned Good Luck Margarine and had the horses shipped there from where they’d landed in New York to Old Mill Creek, Illinois.
Tempel Farm eventually became home to the world’s largest Lipizzan population. Over 900 foals have been born there—a particularly impressive number since fewer than 4,000 Lipizzans exist worldwide.
Tempel Lipizzans have been featured in four U.S. Presidential Inaugurations, the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration in Washington D.C., and countless charitable events. Fortunately for us, they also perform throughout the summer at Tempel Farm. As part of this year’s 70th anniversary celebration, one veteran is selected for a ceremonial Lipizzan carriage entrance in each show.
The Tempel Farms experience, now run by Buonanno, also includes a self-guided tour, outdoor café and time to visit with trainers and riders after the show.
“I’m so very proud of my family’s commitment to keep this tradition alive,” Buonanno says.
And we’re delighted that this unique national treasure is located here and that her family shares it so freely.
For more info on Lipizzan horses, click here.
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